London: America's top infectious diseases expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, has apologised after his remarks created some stir here for implying that the UK's regulator had "rushed" the process when it became the first country to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech for rollout.
In an interview with the BBC, Fauci stressed that his remarks had been misconstrued as criticism of the UK's vaccine approval process, in which he has a great deal of confidence.
"I have a great deal of confidence in what the UK does both scientifically and from a regulator standpoint," he said.
On Wednesday, when the UK's Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) announced its decision, Fauci told Fox News that the UK did not review the vaccine "as carefully" as US health regulators but admitted that the US would quickly also be in a position to approve a vaccine.
He later told CBS News that the UK had "rushed" the approval, but on Thursday seemed to backtrack, and said there was "no judgment on the way the UK did it".
"Our process is one that takes more time than it takes in the UK. And that's just the reality. I did not mean to imply any sloppiness even though it came out that way," he told the BBC.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) plans to meet on December 10 to discuss approval for the UK-approved vaccine and will meet again on December 17 to discuss a second vaccine – Moderna.
Dr Fauci had described the US FDA's approval process, slower than the UK, as the "gold standard". On Thursday he clarified, saying the US does "things a little differently" than the UK.
"That's all. Not better, not worse, just differently," he said.
Dr June Raine, the head of the MHRA, had reiterated the "rigorous" protocols followed and that "no corners had been cut" in vetting the vaccine as they had been conducting a rolling review as the clinical trials were conducted.
"No vaccine would be authorised for supply in the UK unless the expected standards of safety, quality and efficacy are met," the MHRA said.
The UK's Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Prof. Jonathan Van-Tam, responded to Fauci's comments by stressing that he is "very confident" in the MHRA as there was more than "100 years of medical experience" between the UK regulator and the committee advising which groups of people are vaccinated first.
Meanwhile, UK Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has come under some criticism for implying that the UK was somehow a better country for approving the vaccine ahead of any other, attributing the success to "brilliant clinicians".
In an interview with LBC Radio, he said: "I just reckon we've got the very best people in this country and we've obviously got the best medical regulator, much better than the French have, much better than the Belgians have, much better than the Americans have.
"That doesn't surprise me at all, because we're a much better country than every single one of them." The European Commission spokesperson, Eric Mamer, responded by saying that the MHRA's experts are "very good" but "we are definitely not in the game of comparing regulators across countries, nor on commenting on claims as to who is better".
"This is not a football competition, we are talking about the life and health of people," he said.
The ruling Conservative Party peer, Lord Michael Forsyth, tweeted that it was "disappointing to see some folk trying to make political capital out of the brilliant vaccine news".
"Frankly it's just unseemly and we should just be united in our thanks to those responsible for this breakthrough and the hope it brings to every person on the planet," the former Scotland Secretary wrote.
The UK has ordered 40 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine, with the first batches now delivered to the UK from Belgium for the process of vaccinating those at the highest risk of death from Covid-19 to begin by next week.
The news comes as the UK crossed the grim milestone of 60,000 deaths from the deadly virus this week, with another 414 deaths recorded on Thursday to take the toll to 60,113.
(Based on PTI feed)